Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2005;72(10):2035-2036

See related article on body piercing.

What is body piercing?

Body piercing is when a hole is made in your skin so you can add a piece of jewelry for decoration.

What parts of my body can I pierce?

Earlobe piercing (through the soft lower part of the ear) is the most common type. Some people pierce their ear cartilage (the harder part around the edge of the ear). Other common places to pierce are the eyebrow, nose, tongue, lip, belly button, nipples, or genitals.

Is body piercing dangerous?

Sometimes bad infections, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis, can be spread by body piercing. Other problems may include bleeding, swelling, scarring, and reactions to the jewelry. Tooth chipping and gum damage can happen in people with tongue and lip piercings. Jewelry in the mouth or nose can be swallowed accidentally.

What is a “high” ear piercing?

A “high” ear piercing is when the cartilage along the edge of the ear is pierced (see drawing) . This type of piercing is more dangerous than an earlobe piercing. There is more risk of infection with high ear piercings, and these infections are harder to treat than infections of the earlobe. An infection of the ear cartilage can make your ear deformed.

How do I know if my piercing is infected?

If your piercing is infected, the skin around the area may be red and swollen. It might hurt to touch your piercing, and there may be yellowish, bad-smelling fluid coming from the hole. If you have a fever or any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor.

How are infections treated?

Minor infections can be treated with over-the-counter medicines that you rub on your skin. If you have a bad infection, your doctor might give you a stronger medicine. Some people with very bad infections might need surgery.

What increases my risk of problems from body piercing?

Many things can affect your body’s ability to fight infection. Be sure to tell your piercer if you have diabetes, heart problems, or other medical conditions. If you take steroids or blood thinners, talk to your doctor before you get a piercing.

Who should do my body piercing?

If you are going to have a body piercing done, you should find a professional with a good reputation. Look for someone who uses clean, sterilized tools. Do not do the piercing yourself, and do not let anyone who is not a professional piercer do it. Never rush into having a piercing. Select the body site and jewelry carefully.

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